Staying safe: In response to polarization, county increased security measures
Special to the Sierra Sun
Despite orders to quarantine — or maybe because of them — civic engagement has been on the rise in Nevada County since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020.
Local officials have struggled with mask-related turmoil at the Board of Supervisors, and the county is paying a price for the polarization.
“Unfortunately, the county has received a number of threats that have led to increasing our security,” CEO Alison Lehman said in statement. “Sadly, we are seeing this happening all over the country.”
Deputy CEO Martin Polt said government buildings and employees are on high alert, “in general.”
“We have a duty to create a safe work environment where the community can access local government services and participate in government meetings safely and without fear of reprisal,” he said.
Nick Poole, head of county Risk Management, declined to specify what kind of threats Eric Rood Administrative Center employees have received over the last 24 months, but noted the marked increase in active shooters nationwide.
The FBI has designated 40 shootings in 2020 as active shooter incidents, indicating a 100% increase since 2016. A mass shooting this past weekend in Sacramento took the lives of six people, and wounded others.
Poole said the county conducted active shooter response trainings and employs private security firms to guard the Rood Center and libraries when needed.
“How many we have at any time can fluctuate based off of our concerns,” Poole said of the security guards. “I’m not disclosing the number. Our concern would be someone who would desire to do something.”
Poole, who did not oversee security in 2019 or 2020, noted that protecting county employees requires cross-department collaborations.
According to Management Analyst Barry Anderson, who’s with Lehman’s office, the budget for private security support increased approximately 10% annually from 2017 to 2020.
Poole said although Risk Management has a budget that includes two employee salaries, as well as the cost of insurance and workers’ compensation, it does not delineate the amount paid by the county to Universal Protection, LP (now Allied Universal) and Pride Asset Protection Group — two private security companies.
Anderson said Universal Protection has supplied three security guards to the Rood Center, the county’s Behavioral Health Office off Crown Point Circle and a county resource center.
The contract was exclusively for Health and Human Services facilities across three facilities, including the Eric Rood Administrative Center, prior to fiscal year 2021-22, Anderson said in an email.
Universal Protection, LP billed the county for $209,235 in fiscal year 2020-21.
The county then renewed that contract the following year for $46,000 in fiscal year 2021-2022. Anderson said the county paid Pride Asset Protection Inc. $230,000 for an additional guard posted in the Rood Center lobby and a security manager, bringing the total private security costs to the county to $276,000.
Anderson noted a 32% increase to security costs last year between an additional security contract with Pride Asset Protection Inc. and a resolution to convene with a “security consultant” and “special event security.”
According to the latest resolutions, the county uses Universal Protection “as needed.” Poole said he does not oversee security, but is responsible for allocating independent security contractors per request.
Poole said the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office provides security to the county building in that county, where he last worked, and was unsure why Nevada County outsources its security work.
“While I can’t speak to how it has always been, I can tell you that I have been here for 21 years and we’ve always patrolled/responded to calls within the Rood Center,” said Andrew Trygg, spokesman for the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office. Trygg said deputies were never posted at the Rood Center’s front security desk during his tenure.
Trygg said although the Rood Center is within the city limits of Nevada City, the Sheriff’s Office has a memorandum of understanding with Nevada City Police Department that gives jurisdiction “over the interior of the Rood Center.”
Polt said some of the increased costs were incurred to plan and execute an active shooter drill — overseen by the Risk Management Department.
Polt said tracking changes in the county’s security measures is challenging because prior private security contracts were issued through the Health and Human Services Department, while security cameras or plexiglass would be added through the facilities budget.
Steve Monaghan, chief information officer for Nevada County, said the facilities and IT departments worked together to install four new cameras in the Rood Center over the last two years for $5,000.
According to Anderson, the county’s CEO staff and auditor-controller ensure eligibility and alignment with federal guidelines and county priorities when using American Rescue Plan Act funding, and then formally establish the budget by supervisor resolution.
“The requests to use ARPA funding for security guards and cybersecurity improvements have not yet been through that process,” Anderson said, adding that the increased security costs may ultimately be covered by the county’s general budget.
Anderson said the board’s priority has been reinvesting in the community, which is why 30% of the $19.3 million in ARPA funding was allocated to community reinvestment.
“All county programs have been impacted. This is just one of the COVID-related impacts,” Anderson said of weighing the increased need for security against other needs. “Nobody in leadership will deny the real threats people have felt. That’s why we’ve moved forward with, ‘yes, let’s increase the contract’ — the security — in the moment.”
Anderson said the county’s general fund has the capacity to absorb the increased cost if needed, “or we could subsidize some or all with ARPA if needed,” depending on how it fits in with the overall picture of the county’s needs.
Cybersecurity could also fall under a security budget, if there were one, Polt said, but instead funds are managed through the county’s Information Technology Department.
“Cyber criminals do pose a real threat to the county, as they do to all government and private sector entities, as well as all individuals with their personal technology use,” Monaghan said, adding that county staff has dedicated considerable time and resources to ensure its cyber safety.
Monaghan said the county spent $800,000 over the last two years in new cybersecurity-related IT investments through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 funding, the county’s Enterprise Technology Fund and the CARES Act.
The IT Department’s budget increased approximately $200,000 a year with one new staff position and the cybersecurity consultant annual contract as well as annual cybersecurity software/hardware support costs.
“CARES funded the new firewalls and endpoint protection software, et cetera, to about 80% and the County Technology Fund picked up the balance,” Monaghan said, adding that the latter revenue source is part of the county’s overall general fund reserve balance, designated for enterprise technology infrastructure purposes. “ARPA is being evaluated to reimburse the tech fund portion for elements that qualify for that program and for other pending cybersecurity needs.”
Monaghan said the increase may look substantial to some, but government agencies generally spend between 2% and 4% of their total budget on IT.
“The county has a $285 million total budget and we spend around $6.5 million a year on IT, (which equals) 2.3%,” Monaghan said, adding that the department supports around 1,150 users — employees, temps, contractors, partners — that use the technology systems.
Polt said the county is inclined to protect its employees and customers and has made appropriate budgeting choices to meet the changing needs.
“When you have 30 to 40 people showing up and a lot of contentious discussions, some people are saying, ‘Man, there’s a possibility something could go awry here,'” Polt said. “I don’t think it’s a mystery to anyone — it’s not like its an invisible thing to our supervisors or our CEO.
“We’re concerned about the health and welfare of our employees,” he added.
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union, a sister publication of the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at email@example.com
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